Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Great Molasses Flood

Today is the 96th anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood (aka the Boston Molasses Disaster).

This sounds very odd and fascinating, you say. What is heaven's name is the Great Molasses Flood?

Pull up a chair, my friend, and I will tell you a little story.

From the Boston Globe via Wikipedia

On January 15, 1919, in the North End neighborhood of Boston, a poorly built 50 ft. tall storage tank collapsed at the Purity Distilling Company facility on Commercial Street. Almost 2,300,000 gallons of molasses burst out of the enormous tank, creating a 25 ft. tall wave that moved down the narrow streets at an almost unbelievable rate of 35 miles per hour.

21 people were killed and 150 were injured. Horses and other animals were smothered. Buildings were pulled from their foundations and destroyed. The elevated train tracks at Atlantic Street were mangled and a train was lifted off the tracks. The accompanying rush of air around the flood hurled debris and caused coughing fits. Afterwards, waist-high molasses flooded several blocks in every direction.

From Wikimedia Commons

Rescuers and medical professionals worked around the clock for four days hunting for bodies in the goo and tending to the injured before they stopped searching for survivors.

The immediate cleanup took weeks, although people in Boston reported sticky molasses all over town for months afterwards as workers, survivors, and rubberneckers had tracked the stuff through the streets and onto public transportation, etc. A fire boat was used to hose down the neighborhood with salt water which ran off back into the ocean causing the harbor to be brown all the way through the Summer.

And now, it's an infamous part of Boston lore. People here claim that you can still smell the molasses in the North End on hot and humid days, although I don't ever remember smelling it back when we lived on Beacon Hill.

From Wikimedia Commons

But why molasses, you're wondering. Why would anyone want 14,000 tons of molasses in a tank next to the Boston Harbor?

The Purity Distilling Company fermented molasses to produce ethanol which it's parent company, the United States Industrial Alcohol Co., then used to make rum and other spirits. An article about the Molasses Flood from a 1983 issue of Smithsonian, included the following little vignette:

"As the rescue workers and clean-up crews tackled the incredible mess the night of January 16, they paused in puzzlement at the sudden ringing of church bells all over downtown Boston. Nebraska had voted on the 18th Amendment and ratified it. Prohibition was law, and churches which had campaigned for it in their pulpits now celebrated. Men up to their ankles in the makings of rum listened for a moment and went back to work."

So, if you really need an excuse to break open the bottle of Captain Morgan today, pour one out for Boston in memory of the Great Molasses Disaster of 1919. Cheers.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

20 Questions with Kate, Age 6

  1. What is your favorite color? purple
  2. What is your favorite toy? kinetic sand
  3. What is your favorite fruit? bananas
  4. What is your favorite TV show? Hard choice! I like all of them.
  5. What is your favorite outfit? Hard choice again. I really like all of my outfits, actually.
  6. What is your favorite game? snowball fights
  7. What is your favorite snack? pretzels
  8. What is your favorite animal? cat
  9. What is your favorite song? I would say...hmm...What Does the Fox Say?
  10. What is your favorite book? I love all books.
  11. Who is your best friend? I have a lot, so I choose all my friends.
  12. What is your favorite thing to do outside? build a snowman
  13. What is your favorite meal? sushi
  14. What is your favorite drink? that fancy drink on New Year's Eve (Nana made the girls sparkling grape juice with orange slices and maraschino cherries in fancy cut glass tumblers!)
  15. What is your favorite holiday? Christmas
  16. What do you want to be when you grow up? a vet
  17. Where is your favorite place to go? I like traveling a lot, so I like every place I go.
  18. What is the best thing about school? when you do birthday books (her teacher's fun class project on the kids' birthdays since the school has a no parties policy)
  19. If you could do anything you wanted, what would you do? I would basically do anything.
  20. If you could have anything you wanted, what would it be? a kitten
[Note: Decisiveness may not be Kate's strong suit! Maggie said, "I don't think Kate understands how you play this game." I think she just likes to keep her options open.]

More 20 Questions from the past few years HERE!

Kate is Six Years Old!

January 2014




Her first "gone tooth."

Pre-K Graduation: "When I grow up I want to be - a Veterinarian" and What Does the Fox Say?: "Hello! My name is Callie!"

Looking miserable in the horrid blue poncho that made her look "ridiculous" at Niagara Falls.


First Day of Kindergarten


*photo by Jeff Fowler*


Oklahoma Birthday Party
She got a make-up case from my parents and is looking extra fancy.

New Hampshire Birthday Party
Oh, the animal prints!! Kate knows how to party.

January 6, 2015
Six Years Old!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It's Halloween!! (Editors Note: It's November 12th.)

Right, OK. So I know it's the middle of November. Several relatives have pointed out that I haven't put up any pictures of the girls in their Halloween costumes yet, tick tock. You guys, it's been NUTS around here. Today is the first normal day without a PTO responsibility, a school holiday, or a sick kid since this month started. And Mike has a work thing tonight and won't be home until after the kids go to bed, so you know, "normal." I do not like this kind of normal, but I admit that I piled quite a bit of our recent chaos on myself.

Just a friendly warning: I'll be taking the month of December off, except for our Christmas travel which I'm looking forward to. If you come at me with some chore between December 1st and January 7th (the day after Kate's birthday) I will ping candy canes off your forehead until you run away! Beware!

ANYWAY, here are some photos of the more fun stuff we've been up to since Halloween...

Pumpkin carving!


At Maggie's insistence, I did roast the pumpkin seeds like my mom used to do. They were a hit!

Kate wasn't so into the grodiness of pumpkin carving. This is about the closest she got to the pumpkin.

Mike's handiwork.

The girls were witches this year, which surprised me. They started out wanting to be a cat (again) and Elsa, but switched to this instead. They looked great!


Hobo Witch?

They organize their candy like this every year.

Not too extravagant, but all high quality loot.

The next night, we met Cousin E up at Gram and Grandpa's in NH to trick or treat again! It was pouring rain and freezing, but they had the best time - and then we had clam chowdah to warm up. CLASSIC New England Halloween.

We also celebrated Sweet Caroline's First Birthday!

Everyone loved the balloons best of all.

Next up - the required Fall in New England leaf-raking, pile-jumping photo shoot.


Silly girls with leaves in their hair (and socks and pants and everywhere).

And finally, since the girls were out of school yesterday for Veterans' Day, they watched the movie Elf for the first time, and Kate decided to make her Christmas ["Crismiss"] List...

Reminds me so so so much of my cousin Amy when we were kids, although I think Kate might have her beat.
Please don't buy her the "lizrd glasis" because I'm getting those.
Also, she cut it in half so everyone could have a piece of it - covering all her bases, present-wise.

Not to be outdone, Maggie (who just wants some "fun stuff, like about science or whatever") decided to make the following rather fancy letter to Santa:

"Maggie's Wonderful Christmas List
Dear Santa, I realy want a fluffy kitten for Cristmas. Love, Maggie"
So to stay competitive in this current holiday present market, Kate also had to get in on this letter to Santa thing:

"Dear Santa, for Christmas I wat a mack your onw cat trees [I want a make your own cat treats (kit). - this actually exists]. Kate."
So, there you go. A photo update of our autumnal shenanigans. Thanks to Mike for his photography help otherwise this post never would've seen the light of day. Back to the grind!

PS - All I want for Christmas are bottles of bourbon and a nap!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Maggie Sez...

*singing* [Each girl gets to sing one song before lights out at bedtime.]

... up above the world so high like a diamond in the sky twinkle twinkle little star how I wonder what you are MIDDLE FINGER!

Mike: Um, what?!

Maggie: Middle finger! *pointing at Kate (with her pointer finger)* MIDDLE FINGER!

Me: Why are you saying that? Where did you hear that?

Maggie: Middle finger, Kate! You know, "Where is middle finger?"

Kate: Oh yeah! Middle finger!

*Kate sings "Where is middle finger? Where is middle finger? Here I am! Here I am!" complete with hand gestures*

[Kate has been singing Where is Thumbkin? every night, one finger/verse per night. Tonight was Middle Finger Night.]


[Mike and I manage some nonchalant Good Nights and run out of the room before laughing.]

Friday, October 17, 2014

Who Do You Think You Are: Jayhawker or Bushwacker?

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed into law on May 30, 1854, creating the Kansas Territory and opening it for settlement by non-Natives. My great-great-great-great-grandfather, Edward B. Johnston, settled near Lawrence with his family in June of 1854, just one month later.

[Kansas Territorial Voter] Census of 1859
Township of Lawrence, County of Douglas, Kansas Territory.
Name of Voter: E B Johnston
Date of Settlement: June/54
Number of Minors: 5, Total: 7
Number of Col'd Persons [blank]
(Note: you can click on photos to enlarge)

"Bleeding Kansas" was a violent stretch of years leading up to the Civil War. Some historians even say the War began in Kansas when conflict over the slavery issue ignited into guerilla warfare.

Prior to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, slavery in the territories was determined by the Missouri Compromise line of latitude: all new states above the 36°30′ N parallel would become free states, and all below, slave states. The new Act effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise by declaring that settlers in the new territories would decide for themselves by voting.

While a democratic solution might seem best, the real outcome was that instigators from both sides flooded into the territory, establishing themselves as settlers in order to vote. Tensions bubbled over into bloody midnight raids by "border ruffians" from the slave state of Missouri and deadly skirmishes between the abolitionist Jayhawkers and the pro-slavery Bushwackers.

The violence lasted from 1855 until a legitimate election in 1861 finally declared Kansas a free state. However, the episode had deepened the divisions within the nation as a whole to the point that the Civil War officially began a few months later. While most Kansans joined the Union Army, guerilla fighting between the old factions continued back home in the new state.

My ancestors were front-and-center to the conflict from the very beginning.

There are very few records for Edward or his wife Rebecca prior to their arrival in Kansas. From census documents, I know that Edward B. Johnston was born in Pennsylvania around 1817, and Rebecca was born in St. Clair County, Illinois, in 1820 or 1823.

They do appear on the 1850 US Census in St. Clair County, IL, with their first child, Delila, who was born around 1844. Their second daughter, Susan, was also born in Illinois in 1853.

Excerpt from the 1850 US Federal Census
District 3, St. Clair Co., IL
Edward B. Johnston is 35, a farmer with $800 worth of property, and has Ohio listed as his birthplace. It says Pennsylvania on every other document, so maybe he came to IL from OH. Rebecca is 27 and Delila is 7, both born in St. Clair Co.

It is interesting that the family has origins in Illinois because Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic Senator from Illinois (and later famous for being the other half of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates), was the author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Perhaps, after having intended to settle in Illinois with Rebecca's family, the news and popularity of Douglas' activities in Washington gave Edward the idea to move on to Kansas.

Whatever spurred them westward, they later told the state census collector that they arrived in Kansas in June of 1854, a couple of months ahead of the first group of anti-slavery political settlers sent by the New England Emigrant Aid Company. The Boston-based NEEAC organized and armed groups of radical abolitionists from New England states (including the infamous John Brown) who wanted to settle in Kansas Territory and vote against slavery. In the summer of 1854, NEEAC scouts reported that a few pioneer families were already living along the banks of the Kansas River at the site of their proposed headquarters. One of these families may have been the Johnstons. In October of 1854, the NEEAC founded the town of Lawrence there and it became one of the centers of anti-slavery efforts in the Territory. Other anti-slavery Jayhawker towns were Topeka and Manhattan, while Atchison, Lecompton, and Leavenworth were associated with the pro-slavery Bushwackers.

The first house built in Lawrence.
(Not the Johnstons', as far as I know.)

Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, c. 1856.

A territorial census was conducted in early 1855 that listed Edward B. Johnston in District No. 1, Lawrence Township, Douglas County.

My great-great-great-grandfather, Allen McGee Johnston, was born to Edward and Rebecca on March 20, 1855, in Kansas.

Ten days later on March 30, 1855, Territorial Governor Andrew H. Reeder held an important election to select members for a new House of Representatives. Reportedly, pro-slavery Missouri residents flooded over the border on the day of the election to illegally vote and violently intimidate the local settlers at the polls. Locals rejected the pro-slavery winners as "The Bogus Legislature" and established their own shadow legislature at Topeka, an NEEAC-established Free-State town. A Congressional investigation took place in Washington, DC, in 1856. E. D. Ladd, postmaster of Lawrence and NEEAC settler, testified and presented lists of residents named on the census rolls cross-referenced against the names on the voter poll.

E. B. Johnston is listed as a resident and voter.

Next, Edward shows up on the voter poll list for an election on January 15, 1856, residing in District 1, Franklin Township, which was just to the east of Lawrence City.

His participation in this particular election is possibly more evidence that he was a Free Stater and not pro-slavery. The election on Jan. 15th was held by the rebel Topeka Legislature to ratify their anti-slavery Topeka Constitution and elect abolitionist Charles L. Robinson as Territorial Governor (he would later be Kansas' first State Governor). The election was boycotted by most Bushwackers, and later in that same month, President Franklin Pierce declared the Topeka Legislature revolutionary and treasonous and ordered the arrest of it's members.

There is no record of Edward voting in the election to ratify the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, which was drawn up by the official Territorial "Bogus" Legislature. Like in Topeka, the Lecompton election was boycotted by most voters from the opposition.

On the other hand, I also can't find a record of E.B. voting on the anti-slavery Wyandotte Constitution in April of 1860, which finally brought Kansas into the Union as a free state. So it's possible that the records just don't exist, rather than that he was abstaining on principle.

As unlikely as it seems to me, it is always a possibility that the Johnstons were Southern sympathizers. We have no way of knowing how E.B. voted on any of these elections, and I find no specific mention of him in either guerilla camp, probably because he was really just a simple pioneer farmer. I am also not able to find a definitive Civil War service record for him on either side, mostly because there are a lot of Edward Johnstons, but also possibly because many able-bodied Kansans stayed behind to fight with the home-guard militias as the local disputes and raids continued during the War.

While he is still in District 1 in the 1856 voter record, his township changes from Lawrence to Franklin. The town of Franklin was considered to be a pro-slavery settlement. However, the Johnstons are back in Lawrence Township as of the 1859 state census. My guess is that, being farmers, they lived in the country somewhere to the east of the city of Lawrence, and that their apparent movement around Douglas County between 1854 and 1860 only indicates that the township lines were in flux as the population grew and the voting precincts changed.

Douglas Co. 1857.
I so wish I could read the names of the individual property owners plotted on this map, but they are mostly too small. I can't pick out any Johnstons.

Edward and Rebecca show up next on the 1860 US Federal Census in Wakarusa Township (which surrounded the city of Lawrence), Douglas County, with their children Delila J. (16), Susan (8), Allen M. (5), John (3, b. 1857), and Mary A. (2, b. 1859).

Excerpt from the 1860 US Federal Census
[There is a typo listing him as "J B Johnson" but the names, ages, and birth places of the rest of the family, in addition to the residence in Douglas County near the Lawrence post office is correct. JH Van Winkle, the hired laborer listed, is probably Rebecca Van Winkle Johnston's brother or nephew.]

Douglas County: Wakarusa Township shown in red around the city of Lawrence in grey. (from Wikipedia)

The next trace of Edward is in the record of his marriage to his second wife, Eliza Ann Hatton.

Fourth from bottom: "Johnston, E. B., of Douglas co., and Eliza A. Hallier [sic], of Jefferson co., mar. June 16, 1864, by A. G. Sherwood, J. P."

Eliza A. Hatton, daughter of Adam and Mary Hatton, age 26 in 1860, born in Kentucky, and (I think it says) a "Tayloress" in Kentucky Township, Jefferson County, near the Oskaloosa post office.

Sometime between 1860 and 1864, Rebecca must have died, but I can't find any record of her death or a grave site. I also don't find any listing of her name as a victim of the Bleeding Kansas violence, such as Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence in 1863.

She just disappears, and on the 1870 US Federal Census, Edward and Eliza Johnston are listed with their children, Susan (17), Allen M. (15), John (13), Mary A. (11), and William (5, son of Eliza and E.B.). Delila Jane is missing because she had married Thomas Moon in 1864. They are located near the Perry post office, Kentucky Township, Jefferson County, which was immediately to the north of Lawrence across the Kansas River and nearer to Eliza's parents.

Excerpt from 1870 US Federal Census

They show up again on the 1875 Kansas State Census in Beaver Township, Cowley Co., near the Winfield post office.

EB Johnston (58), Eliza (41), Susan had left home and her whereabouts are unknown to me, Allen (19), John (18), Mary (16), WA (10), Jesse C (4, son of Eliza and EB), Maude Johnston (10; I have no idea who this is, although the name runs in later generations of the family), and Edward (9 months, son of Eliza and EB).

And the last we see of E.B. and Eliza is the 1880 US Federal Census for Hendricks Township, Chautauqua Co., which was right on the southern border between Kansas and the Osage Reservation.

Edward (63; listed as suffering from Paralysis, father's place of birth is "Ocean" and mother's is Virginia), Eliza (47), John H. (23), William A. (15), Jesse C (9), and Edward (5). Also, there is a border, Alexander Crody (26) who is a "Gentleman" from Virginia!

My great-great-great-grandfather, Allen McGee Johnston, had married Margaret Ann "Maggie" Huff in 1876, and they were still living in Cowley Co. in 1880 with their four-year-old daughter Dolly May and their one-year-old son Miles Robert, who was my great-great-grandfather.

Allen McGee would go on to run the Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893 in Oklahoma Territory. The claim did not have enough water on it to farm so the family ended up moving to Pawhuska in the Osage Reservation one year later.

The rest, as they say, is history.